Old Veterans, New Battles
Thomas Calabrese –Cord Brannigan grew up in Fallbrook, California. When he was fourteen-years-old, Cord got a part-time job at American Legion Post 329 doing clean-up and helping out during activities at the center. It wasn’t that he enjoyed the work that much, it was mundane and mostly uninteresting, it was more about being around the members that made it all worthwhile for him.
There were a combination of veterans from all the branches of the military with various times of service. There were two men in their late nineties from World War II and a half of dozen from the Korean War. There were men from the Vietnam War and veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as some with peacetime service and a few reservists. All were equally welcomed at Post 329.
Cord was an avid listener who hung on every word whenever the men reminisced about their military experiences. When it came to stories about heroism, those tales were reserved for fallen comrades. Malcolm Gifford was a decorated Marine helicopter pilot who served three tours and had over one thousand missions during the Vietnam War. He was currently retired, having made millions as a real estate developer in California, Arizona and Nevada. He drove a customized 1967 metallic red Chevrolet Chevelle and donated a state of the art one million dollar shooting range to the Chapter. His construction company built the structure as an addition to the meeting hall and while it was long enough to fire some rifles, most members chose to shoot pistols. Private gun safes were available to keep their weapons and ammunitions on site.
On Friday evenings, there was a pot luck dinner, followed by a meeting to discuss further activities and on Wednesday nights a writers’ group met so that veterans could get feedback from their peers on their stories. One of the men owned a craft brewery called, Galloping Gopher and tall mugs of beer were sold for 50 cents a glass and snacks were only a quarter. All proceeds went into the Chapter’s treasury. Most members voluntarily contributed 20 dollars every month and the more wealthy veterans gave much more. Post 329 donated generously to the local veteran stand-downs where homeless veterans could get a hot meal, clothing and medical care. They also funded a scholarship program and sent hundreds of small Christmas gifts to active duty military personnel serving overseas.
Cord was actively involved in all the programs, but attending the writers group was his favorite endeavor. He would ask questions and his vivid imagination would insert him right into the midst of the story. By the time he turned 16 years of age, Cord was determined to serve his country. After careful deliberation, he chose the Marine Corps.
Greg Rasputin was a retired Marine and a member of Post 329. He patiently answered all of Cord’s questions and willingly gave solicited and unbiased advice. He also took Cord to the recruit depot in San Diego and to Camp Pendleton to show him around.
Cord responded gratefully, “I appreciate this very much, sir.”
“No problem, anytime you can make an informed decision rather than one based on subjective assumptions, you’ll be better off,” Greg advised, “I’ll tell you everything I know about the Corps and show you what I can, but the decision on how you use it is yours.”
“I understand, sir.”
Greg continued, “Times change, regulations and training methods vary from generation to generation, but core values remain consistent. Duty, honor and courage are timeless.”
As time passed, Cord took on the additional duty of cleaning weapons for the veterans after they would fire at the range. This gave him the opportunity to learn about guns and in return for his efforts, the men would often allow him to practice his marksmanship. Before long Cord became very proficient with a variety of firearms.
Dave Nielsen smiled in approval after Cord hit the bulls-eye six out of seven times, “You’re getting very good.”
“Or very lucky,” Cord responded.
Dave reminded the young boy, “Luck is the residue of skill.”
There was the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and Russia moving tens of thousands of its troops to the Ukraine border for a possible invasion. Don’t forget China’s regular intrusions into Taiwan airspace and its saber rattling. There were Covid restrictions that were strangling the economy, supply chain problems, massive illegal immigration, skyrocketing inflation and rampant crime to name just a few things. It was no surprise that the White House was overwhelmed, over its head and out if its depth in getting the country back on the right path. They were spinning like a top in a twister, making up excuses instead of finding viable and reasonable solutions.
Terrorists saw this weakness as an opportunity to inject more chaos into American society. Al Qaeda leadership decided that now was the perfect time for an attack. There was a secret military installation located on the Naval Weapons Station in Fallbrook. This command was the hub for Western Pacific covert operations, involving Navy Seals and Marine Corps Reconnaissance units. When Al Queda computer hackers intercepted and decrypted a radio communication during a breech in security, they were able to determine its origin. A plan was developed to attack the installation.
A man rented a three-bedroom condominium through a property management company and paid the entire 12 month lease amount and security deposit in advance with a cashier’s check. The condo was located two blocks from the Naval Weapons Station and the sentries at the Fallbrook gate could be seen from the upstairs balcony. The man then purchased a dozen beds and various furniture from Jerome’s Furniture and bought dishes, pots and pans and various household items from Bed Bath and Beyond. When the place was reasonably suitable for living, he made a phone call to Mexico. Twelve men were smuggled across the southern border near Mexicali by soldiers from the Vasquez Cartel. Upon their arrival in Calexico, they got into a motorhome and were taken directly to Fallbrook.
The Al-Queda operatives implemented a routine where someone was always watching the gate from their perch on the balcony and documenting the coming and goings of delivery vehicles. Every morning and late afternoon two joggers would slowly run pass the gate to get a closer look at the guards and their weapons.
Cord was on his way to work from his home on Stagecoach Way and he always took a shortcut through the condominium parking lot. The first day he didn’t think much of it when he saw two men on the balcony with binoculars. When he saw different men doing the same thing every day of the week, well that really aroused his suspicions. He couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling so one day after school, he rode his bike to the condo complex and found an inconspicuous place to sit and watch. Over the next few hours, various men came and went from the residence. They had three things in common, Middle Eastern in appearance, serious and focused.
The young boy didn’t know if he was just his imagination, but he couldn’t let it go. It was dark by the time he finally convinced himself to go home. After school the next day, George Turpin, Cord’s friend, asked, “Are you working tonight?”
George continued, “There’s a new John Wick movie at the Regal, do you want to see it?”
“Thanks anyway, I have some others things I need to do,” Cord said, “I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”
While sitting at his usual vantage point at the condo complex, Cord saw four men exit the residence and walk up the street. He cautiously followed them from a safe distance to avoid being seen. They entered a Carl’s Jr. and walked up to the counter. When Cord followed them inside, he heard one man speaking in broken English as he placed his order. The other men stood silently next to him.
Cord placed his order of a chicken sandwich, French fries and small drink and sat down two booths away from the men. They were speaking in a foreign language and their tone of voice was rather loud. Cord pulled out his cellphone, set it on the edge of the table and put it on record.
When Cord returned home, he downloaded the Translation App, set it for English and played the recording. The App. indicated that Farsi was the language being spoken and proceeded to translate. At the distance he was sitting, he couldn’t pick up all the words and most were indecipherable. However, two phases did stand out; Finally, we get to complete our mission and four o’clock, day after tomorrow will be our glorious destiny. What was the mission and what was so important about the time? Cord had done all he could, it was now time to call in some experts.
It was Wednesday and time for cheap beer and old stories at American Legion Post 329. Cord explained what he had seen and then played the recording for the members. “What do you think?” Cord asked.
Greg Rasputin, “Definitely is worth further investigation.”
“I agree,” Steve Lozza said.
Marty Assali asked, “How do you want to handle this?”
“Hear something…say something,” Steve said.
Malcom Gifford commented, “Anything the authorities can do, we can do with a lot less bureaucracy involved. If it’s nothing then no harm no foul and we’re not wasting people’s time.
“And if it isn’t?” Greg asked.
Steve smiled, “Then we do what we were trained to do, we go into harm’s way like we used to do.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, our fighting days are in our past,” Marty reminded his fellow veterans.
“You can take the warrior out of the war, but you can’t take the fight out the warrior,” Malcolm said with conviction.
Greg turned to Cord, “You’re going to be a Marine soon, how would you handle this?”
Cord did not hesitate to reply, “I’d confirm the seriousness of the threat. Once that was established, I’d either initiate the appropriate measure to nullify it or disengage.”
“You trained him well, Greg,” Steve said.
The men went to the gun lockers at American Legion Post 329 and got their favorite weapons and a suitable amount of ammunition. Malcolm turned to Cord, “What’s your weapons of choice?”
“The Heckler& Koch 416,” Cord replied.
Malcolm replied, “Good selection,” and opened up a gun locker and handed Cord the weapon, “I’ll take the Sig 550.”
“Aren’t these weapons hard to get,” Cord asked.
“I’ve got a gun collector’s license and a few connections in the gun industry. Don’t ask too many questions.”
Cord and Malcolm rode in the Chevelle and Greg, Steve and Marty traveled in Greg’s black Escalade. Since his car was conspicuous, Malcolm parked in the Albertson parking lot across the street from the condo and Greg found a place on Ammunition Road. Both had unobstructed views of the residence in question.
Two miles away on Mission Road, three Al Queda operatives highjacked a Mimi’s delivery truck as the driver exited a convenience store. He was forced to drive to the condo where the remainder of the terrorists were waiting. They quickly climbed in back with their weapons and hid behind the boxes. The time was 3:55pm.
Malcolm called his fellow veterans on his cellphone, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“We’ve got a clear visual on them,” Greg responded, “Looks like you were right, Cord.”
Steve asked, “Should we call the police?”
“Yeah,” Marty answered, “I think that would be a good idea.”
At that particular time, a Coca Cola semi-truck pulled into the road after making a delivery to Albertson’s. It blocked the street just long enough for the van to reach the base gate. A terrorist was positioned behind the seat with the muzzle of his pistol pressed against the driver’s back. He warned, “One mistake and your guts are going to be over the windshield.”
The gate sentry greeted the driver who he had a casual acquaintance with, “Hey Brian, how are you doing?”
Brian responded nervously, “I’m fine…how are you?”
“Not bad,” The guard smiled, “Same old thing,” and allowed the truck to enter.
Fifteen seconds later, Malcolm raced up, followed by Greg in his vehicle. He showed his retired military identification car to the sentry and stated with the appropriate amount of urgency, “We’re following that truck, it has armed men in the back of it.”
The young sentry reacted, “I’ll notify the Sergeant of the Guard.”
“No time to wait,” Malcolm said and floored it. The 396 cubic inch beneath the hood roared, the tires squealed and the car fishtailed down the pavement as the rear tires struggled for traction. Greg chose not to wait either and also blew past the sentry. Within a couple seconds, a convoy of military police vehicles were in hot pursuit. The delivery truck drove pass the sign that read; No Entry Pass This Point.
The sirens were blaring and the red lights were flashing and the terrorists inside the truck quickly realized that their surprise attack had been foiled. They quickly shifted to plan B, which was to inflict as many casualties and cause as much damage as possible before being killed. The truck skidded to a stop outside the command center and the terrorists came out of the back as if they had been launched. Their weapons were spitting fire as they charge toward the building. Malcolm stopped and he and Cord jumped out the car and engaged the terrorists. Greg, Steve and Marty were less than three seconds behind and they exited their vehicle as bullet whizzed by them.
It may have been years since they saw combat, but the lessons learned in years passed were not forgotten. They hit the ground, took cover and returned fire from the prone position.
Cord was young and the adrenalin was pumping through his body like he had been turbocharged. He turned to Malcolm, “I’ll flank ‘em,” and took off at a full sprint and looked like a blur as he weaved between the burst of gunfire. By this time the military police were on site. Sergeant Gary Almeda quickly assessed the situation as he assumed a defensive position near Malcolm, “Who are those guys?”
Malcolm replied, “Don’t know, just got eyes on them about twenty minutes ago.”
Cord engaged in a gunfight with several terrorists and his practice at the shooting range came in handy. He killed all three of them, but suffered a bullet wound to his upper arm. When reinforcements arrived on site and joined in, the terrorists were overwhelmed and neutralized They got part of their wish and died in a failed mission. When the firefight was over and silence swept over the area like a cloak of doom, the dead terrorists were lying motionless on the front lawn of the Command Center.
Minutes later, a paramedic treated Cord’s wound as the older veterans stood next to him for emotional support,
“Did I ever tell you the story about a Marine who ran across a rice paddy to take out a North Vietnamese machine gun nest?” Steve asked.
“Not that I recall,” Cord grimaced, “I’ll look forward to hearing about it at the next meeting.”
Steve continued, “Count on it.”
Greg surveyed the carnage, “It looks like we still got it.”
“Was there any doubt?” Marty grinned.
Steve added a dose of reality to the situation, “Maybe you hard-chargers didn’t have any, but I sure in the hell had my doubts!”
The paramedic commented, “We’ll transport him to the base hospital for further treatment.”
The older veterans congratulated Cord for a job well done as he was wheeled off on the gurney to a waiting ambulance.
Colonel Ben Feiffer joked, “Any of your old-timers want to tell me what’s going on or did you get lost on your way to an early-bird dinner?”
Malcolm responded, “Another time, I might take that as an insult, but today old seems a lot better that dead.”
Cord was treated at the Camp Pendleton Hospital then transported to Tri City Medical Center.
When the next Wednesday evening writers’ meeting took place, Cord Brannigan was more than just a listener. Even though he had never drank before, the old veterans thought he had earned one tall cold one. When it came time for him to speak, Cord started off, “There was this time when terrorists assaulted the Naval Weapons Station. A group of men could have disbelieved a young boy, but that wasn’t their style. They treated him like one of their own and the camaraderie was evident in the battle,” Cord continued and the tradition of Cheap Beer and Old Stories remained intact.”
Editor’s Note: This makes 295 stories T 295 consecutive stories Mr. Calabrese has written for us! Thank You
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome. For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org